Friday, May 31, 2019

Even If He Does Not

King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. ” 
-Daniel 3:16-18 (NIV)

I’ve been thinking a lot about the act of testimony lately. In a world that mostly seems to prefer that faith be a private matter that’s never discussed in polite company, how do we as God’s people find ways to speak about our experiences with God? If our friends, colleagues, neighbors, and even family members would prefer that we keep our faith to ourselves, is it even possible to testify about our belief that God exists and that he’s faithful, compassionate, and powerful? Who will hear us when we do if our testimony is perceived as transgressing some sort of boundary?
     Tyler Smith and Heather Brown have a testimony. Celebrating Senior Skip Day by swimming in the ocean at Vilano Beach, Florida, they found themselves caught in a current that took them two miles out to sea. For two hours, the teenagers fought to stay above the surface. They were growing weaker, suffering from hypothermia, and there was no one around to hear their cries for help.
     Smith prayed out loud for a boat to come by. He says he said something like, “If you really do have a plan for us, like, come on. Just bring something.” 
     Eric Wagner was bringing his boat from Delray to New Jersey when he and his crew thought they heard a scream over the sound of the wind and the waves. As they scanned the water around them, they saw an arm waving above the swells. They changed course and pulled the two wet, cold, tired teenagers out of the ocean, out of what had been looking more and more like an early grave. 
     “The first words that came out of my mouth were, 'God is real,'" Heather told reporters after she and Tyler were safe. Eric Wagner’s testimony goes like this: "There were too many coincidences, in my opinion, for this to be a coincidence. I truly believe it was divine intervention. It had nothing to do with me. I was just put there at the right place at the right time, and I did the same thing anyone else would have done, pulled them aboard.”
     Bless Tyler, Heather, and Eric for testifying to their belief in the power of God. They’re willing to ascribe to God acts of mercy and salvation that others would doubt or even scoff at. They’re willing to talk about their personal faith in a very public setting, and that’s never easy.
     But, indulge me: What if God hadn’t intervened?
     I’m glad he did, and I’m Eric, Tyler and Heather are willing to call it what it is and give God the glory. But what if God had not done whatever he did to get that boat where Tyler and Heather needed it to be?
     I ask that because a lot of God’s people through the ages have discovered that God doesn’t always intervene in such a convenient and miraculous way. Think of Job. Think of the prophets who suffered for their willingness to be the line of communication between their people and God. Think of Jesus, who wasn’t plucked out of the grasp of death at the eleventh hour.  
     Think of Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, three young guys who probably weren’t much more than teenagers themselves. We know how their story ended, of course, but they didn’t know. They didn’t wait to see if God would deliver them before they found their voice. They testified to an already-angry king that they had no doubt their God was able to deliver them, that he could set them free. But they didn’t tie their obedience to God doing anything. “Even if he does not…,” they vowed, “we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold…”
     It’s great to testify when God does something wonderful. But if that’s the only time we have something to say about him, then testimony is only for those who God rescues dramatically.
     We can and should, however, testify “even if he does not.”  
     I get what Heather was saying, and I don’t have a problem with her saying it. But, of course, God is real whether he saved Heather and Tyler or not. We need to be able to say that.
     Lament and protest are a biblical way for God’s people to relate to God. It’s all through the psalms, if you don’t skip over it: complaints that God isn’t doing more (Psalm 74:11), questions of “how long?” (Psalm 13:1) and “Why?” (Psalm 44:24). But the psalmists are always asking those questions and making those complaints to God. This isn’t the existential doubt that seems so romantic and fashionable today, even among people who call themselves believers. These people of God believe that he exists and that he’s good, and so they’re trying to make sense of what’s gone wrong in their world. They’re determined to praise him and worship him, even if they aren’t sure at a given moment how they’re going to manage it.
     God’s people don’t believe because we understand his good reasons for the pervasive, capricious, and gratuitous suffering in the world. We know who he is, and so we trust his intentions for creation and within creation. We trust that he can save us and will save us even when he does not. We testify to his compassion and grace and power even when at a given moment we can see no evidence of it. 
     That’s why the psalmists worship even as they protest and complain; their feelings about what’s happening to them shouldn’t be ignored, but neither should they be allowed to determine whether they believe.   
     That’s why those three boys in Babylon said they wouldn’t give up on God even if he didn’t save them.
     That’s why Job kept after God, even though he had no hope of understanding what was happening to him.
     That’s why Jesus could weep and beg in the Garden and still say “Not what I will, but what you will."
    We weep over the condition of our world. We lash out over the pain in our lives and the lives of the people around us. We despair of ever understanding it or even being OK with it. We protest that God hasn’t done anything about it.
     When we do, we’re in good company. 
     Sometimes lament and protest are our best testimony: they speak volumes about our belief that God is all about justice, righteousness, peace, love, and healing. They show that there are no strings on our faith: we put our trust and hope in God even in those moments when doing so doesn’t save us. 
     When God rescues you, talk about it like Tyler, Heather, and Eric did. But don’t imagine that’s the only testimony you have. 
     Say you’ll worship him only, even if he does not rescue you. Worship him when your faith is messy, ugly, and unsettled. God doesn’t need us to prove to someone else how great he is. He wants us to speak about our walk with him, even when we don’t have much to say that we consider good. There’s someone else who needs to hear that God is loving, compassionate, full of grace and mercy, and that he can and will save.

     Even when…especially when…he, for a moment, does not.

Friday, May 24, 2019

The Power of Wow

All your works praise you, LORD;
your faithful people extol  you. 
They tell of the glory of your kingdom 
and speak of your might, 
so that all people may know of your mighty acts 
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom….  
My mouth will speak in praise of the LORD.
Let every creature  praise his holy name 
forever and ever. 
-Psalm 145:10-13, 21 (NIV)

The Handel and Haydn Society in Boston is no collection of lightweights. An orchestra and chorus that performs  Baroque and Classical music for over 50,000 people each year at Boston’s Symphony Hall, they’re accustomed to all sorts of audience reactions. But even President and CEO David Snead was taken by surprise by the reaction of one audience member at a recent performance, a reaction very out of character for H+H’s typical audience.
     At the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music, very clearly, Snead heard someone in the audience shout one word: “Wow.”  
     "There's a sense of wonder in that ‘wow,’” Snead would later say. “You could really hear on the tape he was like, 'This was amazing.’ 
     “He really touched my life in a way that I’ll never forget,” Snead says. He was so touched by the response , in fact, that he decided to try to find out whose outburst it was. Therein, as you might have guessed, lies a story.
     Snead sent an email to everyone in the audience that night. Stephen Mattin read it and immediately knew who Snead was looking for. He had been at that performance with his 9-year-old grandson, Ronan, and Ronan was the one who had surprised and won over Snead with his heartfelt response to the orchestra’s performance of Mozart’s piece.
     Snead wasn’t the only one surprised, though. Mattin had been as well when Ronan shouted his amazement. "He just doesn't do that. You know, usually he's in a world by himself," Stephen explained"I can count on one hand the number of times that [he's] spontaneously ever come out with some expression of how he's feeling,"
     Ronan is autistic, you see, and is considered non-verbal. 
     Keep in mind that Snead didn’t know that when he was first impressed by Ronan’s response. I’m sure it meant even more to him when he discovered that Ronan doesn’t usually speak at all, but it had an effect on him when he knew nothing about the person who had reacted to that piece of music. Ronan’s heartfelt “Wow” touched Snead’s heart in a way that a critic’s analysis of the music or the more conventional response of the Society’s usual audience wasn’t able to. It was honest, genuine, and empty of pretense or ulterior motive. That one “wow” had power.
     I remember as a teenager being taught in church that I should share my faith. I was kind of convicted at the time that I didn’t talk much about my faith in my day-to-day life, and one day in a Sunday school class a teacher shared with us a “secret” that I really thought was going to give me the edge I needed. He took us through our Bibles and had us highlight Bible verses that he said would help us convince people that they needed Jesus. At each highlighted verse, he had us write a marginal note that would take us to the next verse, and the next, etc. 
     I don’t remember trying to use those verses on my friends, to be honest. (Some of my friends might have been tougher nuts to crack than that…) I do still have the Bible, though, and paging through I notice that almost all of the verses are in Acts or in Paul’s letters. No disrespect to that teacher intended — he’s to be commended for trying to get teenagers to talk about Jesus with their peers — but how were we supposed to tell people about Jesus without, you know, at least referencing the parts of the Bible that describe the life and teachings of Jesus?  
     Maybe that’s why I didn’t, and maybe that’s one of the reasons the church today doesn’t seem to do much of a job of sharing our faith. Maybe we’re leaving out Jesus?
     I love the psalmist’s conviction that he should “speak in praise of the LORD.” He knows that God doesn’t really need him to testify — God’s works praise him, after all. But his faithful people do as well, and so the psalmist needs to. Earlier in the psalm, he resolves that he’ll join in the chain of generations commending God’s works to the next generation: he’ll “proclaim [God’s] great deeds” and “joyfully sing of [God’s] righteousness.” He doesn’t need anyone to give him a chain of Bible verses that will convince those who doubt with its unassailable logic. He only needs to respond out loud to the wonderful things he’s experienced from God. 
     In short, he just needs to hear the music and shout “Wow.”
     “Wow” has power. It’s unassuming, but it has weight. “Wow” isn’t about convincing someone else to see things your way. It doesn’t question someone else’s intelligence. It doesn’t come from a place of superiority or holier-than-thou-ness. “Wow” is what someone says when they’re so floored by what they’re seeing that they don’t have the vocabulary to describe it or talk about it. 
     Listen, church: any God that we have the vocabulary to adequately describe, categorize, and explain is not a God worth our time or efforts.
     On our vacation to Oregon a couple of weeks ago, we took a dune buggy ride. I know. I didn’t know there were sand dunes in Oregon either. But we set off down this trail through the woods, and suddenly we come out on this huge expanse of rolling dunes, blue sky, and ocean beyond. And I look over, and my wife sitting beside me is smiling under her goggles, and she makes this motion with her hands like she’s clapping. I suspect, in her head and heart, she was saying “Wow.”
     An explanation of sand dunes wouldn’t have done much for her at that moment. Neither would someone asking her to pick through a handful of sand from those dunes. Surely she would’ve paid no attention to someone trying to tell her what she was looking at wasn’t really so great. There she sat, applauding God.    
     I know, it feels like we live in a skeptical world. But that’s just because they aren’t hearing enough people saying, “Wow, look what God has done in Jesus!” So let’s not feel the need to convince, debate, win arguments. Let’s not confuse our responsibility to speak of the Lord’s wonderful acts with something as mundane as political debate or a legislative agenda. If we can’t say “Wow” to the gospel story, then maybe we’ve lost track of that story. If we can’t experience God’s grace in all the forms it takes in our lives and respond by praising him and thanking him in the hearing of the people we work with and learn with and live with each day, then maybe we’ve lost sight of his grace entirely. Let’s go back to God, to Jesus, to the gospel until we can say “wow” again.

     Who knows what lives your “Wow” might touch?

Friday, May 17, 2019

Antique Shop

…[T]hey rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here.… They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.”. 
-Acts 17:5-7 (NIV)

In a little town on the Oregon Coast called Rockaway, there’s a little antique store just by Highway 101 as it goes through town. The name of the store, for reasons that are obvious at a glance, is Little White Church Antiques.    
     Little White Church Antiques is a charming little shop, full of the things that only small-town antique stores have in stock. It’s neat, clean, attractive, and no doubt stuffed to the rafters with antiques. It also has a steeple and bell tower still intact. It was a church. Today it sells antiques.
     I have no idea what happened to the church that used to gather in that building, the group of Jesus followers who used to worship, share communion, baptize, marry, and bury there. For all I know, they’re still a thriving community of faith meeting in a better building across town. But the shop rubbed me the wrong way, still. It made me uneasy and I couldn’t explain why immediately. But now I think I know what I didn’t like about it.
     Seeing that shop started me thinking that antique-peddling is a stage of life — or death — that most every church has to push hard against.
     I’ve always been a little uncomfortable when I’ve read the account in Acts of Paul and Silas and their associates in Thessalonica. See, I’m partially the product of a world and culture that preaches tolerance. I’m a big proponent of churches being loved and appreciated by their neighbors, and I like to think that if we’re just good enough neighbors then people will eventually see what great folks we are and just flock to our doors.  
     That isn’t the attitude the church in Thessalonica seemed to have, though.
     I do think that churches should be good neighbors, and I imagine the church in Thessalonica did too. But that isn’t all that they thought they were supposed to be up to in their city. They thought they were supposed to be telling their neighbors about Jesus, and that kind of got them into some trouble. 
     Well, “some trouble” might be an understatement. What happened is more like they caused a riot.
     Now, hold on, before you run off and create a scene that the police need tear gas and rubber bullets to break up, take a breath and keep in mind that the objections some folks in Thessalonica might have had were motivated by jealousy. There was bad faith involved. But what they accused the church of wasn’t altogether wrong. They grabbed some of the Christians they could get their hands on and brought them to the authorities accusing them of “causing trouble all over the world” and “saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.”
     I read this week somewhere that the most persecuted religious group in the world at this time in history are Christians. I imagine there could be some debate about that, but some data over the last month or so suggests that there’s something to it. I don’t mean, let me hasten to add, the kind of persecution that American Christians sometimes complain about: this is a little more than being pressured to bake a cake for a wedding you don’t approve of or hearing “Happy Holidays” when you’d rather hear “Merry Christmas.” I mean the kind of persecution that the church in Thessalonica had to deal with that day, the kind where you’re brought before government officials and essentially accused of treason. The kind where your life is in danger.
     People who say that Jesus isn’t political clearly weren’t in Thessalonica that day, were they?
     Presumably, those Christians knew about being good neighbors. But they also knew that they needed to tell their neighbors that Jesus is king — and that the kingdom in which they were putting their hope was empty and futile. Because when you believe that a regime change is coming, you have to say so, don’t you? Even when it makes things uncomfortable.
     Seeing that antique shop in that little white church makes me wonder if a lot of us in churches aren’t already trying to sell antiques to our neighbors.
     Have you ever walked into a church and had the sense of going back in time? Like, you look around you and it looks like nothing has changed in 50, 60 years? You hear what people are talking about, and it really seems like literally nothing has changed? Ever been in a church where maybe they were even proud of the fact that nothing had changed? Or maybe things have changed, but only in an effort to put bodies in seats. 
     Look, if nothing has appreciably changed in our churches for 50 years, then we’re just selling nostalgia. We’re peddling antiques. We’re trying to get people to buy a piece of a way of life that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s fun to swing an old golf club from the era when a “wood” was really made of wood. It’s fun to poke around in old magazines and old jewelry. It’s nothing to base a faith system on, though.
     When you preach that Jesus is king and that his kingdom is even now upsetting the rules and priorities and loyalties of the world we live in, it tends to upset things.
     Selling antiques never upsets things. People love antiques.
     People don’t always love Jesus. They don’t always love what he does to their lives, to their worlds, to their prejudices, to their self-centeredness, to their certainty that they have the world all figured out. But that’s why we need him; he tells us when we’re depending on the wrong kings and investing in the wrong treasures.
     And that’s why the church can never stop calling out the names of false emperors and unworthy treasures. More importantly, it’s why we can never stop announcing that there is another king. One called Jesus.  
     We’re no good to our world if all we’re doing is peddling antiques. We’re no good to them if we’re replacing Jesus with a quaint, nostalgic “gospel” that locates salvation in the Christianity or the America or the economy of times gone by. Our king is Jesus, and if our churches are looking more and more like antique shops then the answer is for us to remember the name of our king and to lose our fear of speaking it to our world. 
     Not in arrogance, hatred, and superiority: those are the tactics of other kings and other kingdoms. 
     In love, and with grace, and accompanied by the acts of kindness, mercy, and generosity that are the marks of our king.
     It will cause trouble; then again, our brothers and who are being persecuted sisters all over the world will testify to the fact that Jesus has always caused trouble.

     Still; it’s better than selling antiques.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Love the Family

Love the family of believers. 
-1 Peter 2:17 (NIV)

Imagine a family where being together isn’t prioritized. Where other responsibilities — or maybe just a preference to spend time doing other things — crowd out family time. Imagine a family that trains its younger generation to put other things first as well.
     Imagine a family where cliques and factions become more important than the family as a whole, where the family name is brought into disrepute by all the squabbles, infighting, and division. Imagine a family that thinks its differences are more important than its shared bloodline, history and values as a family.
     Imagine a family that thinks success for one part is failure for another. Imagine a family that thinks every member must hold all the same opinions and convictions and do everything in the same way in order to remain a part of the family.
     Imagine a family in which the vulnerable are preyed upon while the predators are protected.
     Imagine a family that crushes members who are in pain under the weight of expectation, guilt, and judgment. Now imagine that same family celebrating the success of its most manipulative, deceitful, and abusive members.  
     Imagine a family where there is no expectation that members will be truly a part of family life. Imagine a family in which family members only share in the life of the family when they’re nagged, cajoled, and guilted into it.
     Imagine a family where a few people do everything. The other members of the family stop by now and then and enjoy the benefits of the others’ work. Imagine a family where the people who do most of the work simmer in resentment of the others instead of encouraging and helping the others to take responsibility as well.
     Imagine a family in which every person expects that everything in the family’s life together will be done to his or her liking. Imagine a family in which everyone considers him or herself an expert on every topic.
     Imagine a family where problems and disagreements are addressed, not by communication, but by avoidance. Imagine a family where members simply choose to not be part of the family anymore rather than deal with those with whom they don’t see eye-to-eye.
     Imagine a family that’s segregated by race, ethnicity, and language. Imagine a family in which those with money or education look down on those without, and vice versa. Imagine a family in which differences provide lines for division instead of opportunities for learning, understanding, and growth.
     Imagine a family in which there’s no concern for the younger generation, the future of the family. Imagine that the children aren’t taught the family’s values or instructed in treasuring what the family calls important. Imagine, if you can, a family that routinely stifles the passion and potential of young adulthood, that constantly requires the up-and-comers to earn their place at the table through years of silent service to the agendas and whims of their elders. 
     Imagine a family where there’s no respect for ancestors. Imagine a family where the younger generation demands that their voices be heard by denigrating and devaluing the experiences and earned wisdom of the older. Imagine a family in which those who are older are consigned to the trash heap because they aren’t as hip, exciting, or energetic as they used to be. Imagine that they’re mocked because they refuse to embrace the latest and greatest. Imagine a family in which the younger generation demeans the hard work and sacrifice of those who have come before — the hard work and sacrifice that has built the family as they know it.
      A family like the one I’m describing wouldn’t remain viable very long. It wouldn’t do a very good job of providing safety and security for its members. It would be no surprise if its younger members didn’t learn the lessons they needed to learn to thrive, and if they passed on the pain they had suffered to future generations. It wouldn’t be unexpected if members didn’t grow bitter, angry, and suspicious as they got older. Dysfunction like I’m describing would reproduce itself from generation to generation until it erased anything healthy, constructive, or life-giving.
     When Peter tells us to “love the family of believers,” he doesn’t mean that the church ought to talk a lot about being a family. He doesn’t mean that we should call each other “brother” and “sister” at church and then go about the rest of our weeks as if our sisters and brothers don’t exist. Those words come shortly after he demands that we “live such good lives among the pagans that…they may see [our] good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” How we treat each other in the church is part of the kind of life that should build a bridge between this world and the world God is creating for us to enjoy with him forever. How we live together in church, in short, ought to be a teaser for what life together will look like then, when Christ returns and abolishes everything that causes families to implode and collapse.
     Too often, perhaps, it’s just the opposite. Too often, the way the church has treated one another has done nothing to give “the pagans” hope for a different kind of world, a different kind of life, a different kind of family. At times, we’ve even topped the pagans in family dysfunction.
     The good news is, your church can be different. The failings of the historical church don’t have to be the failings of each individual local expression of the church. Your church can love one another. Your church can be the family that it ought to be. You can take care of each other. You can respect each other. You can disagree without diminishing each other. You can solve the problems that come up in every family by working together and affirming what holds you together. You can see diversity in age, gender, race, ethnicity, education, and economics as a good thing that will better help you understand one another and the world in which we live. You can create together a place of safety, joy, and peace. You can be a family in which every member does the work God has called them to do in the world, encouraged and equipped by every other member.
     Your church can be that kind of family, and it can begin with you being that kind of family member. You don’t need your leaders’ permission to love the family of believers. You can start right now.
     Imagine what kind of family you can create.

One New Humanity

…[H]e himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.
-Ephesians 2:14-16 (NIV)

Angela came to North America in the same way millions of people have through the centuries: against her will. She arrived in 1619 at the Jamestown colony, already the victim of war, a miserable transatlantic crossing, and an attack by pirates. She seems to have been the first, or at the very least one of the first few, Africans brought as slaves to what would become America.
     Angela isn’t her real name, of course; only her Anglicized one. She was taken during a war in Kongo, in West Africa, part of the “cargo” of Portuguese slave traders intended for a colony in Vera Cruz,  Mexico. More than 120 Africans died on the ship from the overcrowded conditions alone. The Portuguese ship was attacked en route by British pirates on two ships, The Treasurer and The White Lion. Angela was taken aboard The Treasurer and eventually to Jamestown, where she was traded for food.    
     We know from census records that she ended up in the household of Captain William Pierce. She survived a Powhatan attack on the colony that left 347 colonists dead, and a famine that followed. So far, we don’t know much more about Angela. 
     We don’t know anything about her life in Kongo. Presumably, she was treated like a person there. In North America, she was treated as currency. Or property. Here, her value was determined by her labor or her equivalent in food. As a person, innately, she had no value. 
     The same year she arrived in Jamestown, 1619, was also the year of the meeting of the first General Assembly in Jamestown. That assembly has been called “the oldest continuous law-making body in the western hemisphere.” So, literally, slavery in America is as old as democracy. 
     On this year's 400th anniversary of the arrival — the forced arrival, lest we think they had a choice in the matter — of Angela and those like her in America, researchers are hard at work trying to reconstruct all the historical facts they can about her capture, her voyage, and her life in America. James Horn, a historian and president of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation, explains his interest in Angela as “being able to put a name to her and identify her in a place.” 
     I think that’s commendable, of course, and I do hope we learn much more about Angela.
     I just wish it hadn’t taken us as long as it did to care about her, and people like her.
     If someone had put a name to Angela long ago, maybe she wouldn’t have been traded as currency for food. Maybe she would never have been ripped out of her homeland, away from family and friends and the only life she had ever known. Maybe she would have built a life for herself there, married and had children and grown old and been buried there like her ancestors had been. Instead, she was forcibly relocated to a place that would never be her home, forced to redefine her life as the possession of someone else.
     That’s the only way, of course, a normal human being can mistreat other human beings: forget they have a name, forget they have intrinsic value, forget they have a past and a family and hopes and dreams for the future. 
     Slaveowners were able to tell themselves that they were bettering their slaves’ lives; after all, they taught them to read (sometimes), taught them the Bible, taught them to dress in Western clothing. The inherent bias that the way of life they forced on those slaves was an improvement — even in captivity — over their previous lives is breathtaking.
     We still do it, of course. We convince ourselves that some people are “other”. The non-working poor are lazy parasites. Immigrants are invaders threatening our way of life. Muslims are radicals looking to subvert our laws with Islamic Sharia. Democrats are socialists, Republicans are fascists, homosexuals are perverts laying in wait for our children. It seems the rule in our world is to dehumanize people who are different from us. Even, maybe especially, in the church.
     But we didn’t learn that from Jesus. What we learned, Paul says, or should have learned, is that in Jesus God wasn’t trying to separate good from bad, sinner from saint, right from wrong, approved from non-approved. Though sometimes we use Jesus in that way, that wasn’t God’s intent. Paul uses one of the most complicated social distinctions the church could wrestle with, Jew vs. Gentile, to show that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus God was actually creating one, new united humanity. He intended to erase the things that keep us separated — not the things themselves, but the “commands and regulations” based on those differences that keep us from making peace. He set them aside “in his flesh.” “In his body,” he reconciled all people to God through the cross. As he died, so was human hostility intended to die, the kind of hostility that denies someone a name and a right to self-determination. 
     If we all need the death of Jesus to reconcile us to God, maybe we aren’t all that different. Jew/Gentile, white/black, gay/straight, sinner/saint, Democrat/Republican — at the level ground around the cross, it’s hard to tell us apart, isn’t it? We’re all people in need of God’s grace.
     So as we enjoy God’s grace, may we show it to others who need it too. As we are reconciled to God through Jesus, may we try our best to be reconciled to other people. As we do, we’ll become what we were intended to be: a holy temple  in the Lord” and “a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”     
     We’re all people who matter enough to Jesus that he died for us. We’re all people with names and stories that God cares deeply about, names and stories too holy and too important to be lost. Let’s be sure that we put names to each other. 

     And let’s never forget that, whatever other names we may be called, the goal is we will all be called by Jesus’ name one day.